The spring of 1920 sees the end of a turbulent time in the life of Johnny Welles. Three tragedies for which he feels responsible plague him until he seeks to escape the only life he’s ever known. Nothing his stepmother, Collie, or his three older siblings do helps to put Johnny’s mind at ease. Prudence Welles Mayfield, the aunt Johnny has never met, provides the solution to her nephew’s grief.
Prudence visits the Welles farm when Johnny is twelve with the express purpose of taking him to live with her in Baltimore. She has an agenda that will not only please her nephew, but will also satisfy her own hidden desires. Without waiting for an invitation to lunch, Prudence seats herself at the kitchen table to eat the simple, delicious food Collie prepared and reveal her plan.
I had fried okra in mind as a side dish when I wrote the scene above. It’s amazingly simple to make, but tastes incredible. The great thing about okra is that it can be canned for frying and enjoyed in the middle of winter or any other time the vegetable is out of season. Simply open a jar, don’t rinse it, and proceed with the following recipe.
Collie’s Fried Okra
1 lb. fresh okra (choose small, bright green pods free of rust or black spots)
1 c cornmeal
3 T flour
1 ½ t sea salt
½ t black pepper
⅛ t cayenne
Dash of garlic powder, optional
Peanut and/or canola oil for frying
Bring about one inch of oil up to 400° in an electric skillet or in a cast iron skillet with a thermometer to gauge the temperature.
Wash the okra and pat dry. Trim both ends and cut into ½ inch pieces. Mix the cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add garlic powder to this step if using. Toss the dry ingredients with a fork to blend.
Break the egg into a bowl and add several hearty dashes of Tabasco. Beat the egg thoroughly. Dip one-third of the okra in the beaten egg and toss to coat. Transfer the okra to the dry mixture and stir to ensure the pieces are thoroughly covered.
Carefully float the coated okra in the heated oil in small batches. Allow them to cook on one side then turn them to finish cooking on the other. When the coating is golden brown, transfer the okra to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining okra.
Season with more sea salt if desired. Keep the okra warm in a baking dish in the oven while cooking in batches. Serve warm.